Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Henry Jordan (1818–1890)

by A. A. Morrison

This article was published:

Henry Jordan (1818-1890), dentist, parliamentarian and public servant, was born on 19 November 1818 at Lincoln, England, son of John Jordan, a Wesleyan minister descended from an old Devonshire family, and his wife Elizabeth, née Jefferies. Tutored by his father, he entered Kingsford College, Bristol, and then studied medicine in London. His health failed and he visited America. On his return he studied dentistry in London and built up a lucrative practice in Derby. His Practical observations on the Teeth (London, 1851) ran to two editions, was highly praised in England and America and later won him election to the Odontological Society of Great Britain. Though attracted by holy orders, he was persuaded by the Wesleyan Missionary Society to go to South Australia. He was sent to the mission for Aboriginals at Mount Barker but his health soon deteriorated and he returned to dentistry, bought a practice in Sydney and in February 1856 moved to Brisbane. On 9 June 1857 he married Sarah Elizabeth Hopkins, daughter of Nathaniel Turner, an early missionary in New Zealand.

Jordan joined Queensland's first board of education and served as a visiting chaplain at Brisbane gaol. In 1859 he lectured on self-reliance to the Albert Street Wesleyan Church. From May to November 1860 he represented Brisbane in the colony's first Legislative Assembly. In 1861 he was sent to London as commissioner and immigration agent. He wrote a pamphlet on emigration to Queensland, 'the future cotton-field of England', lectured widely and dedicated himself to attracting migrants to the colony. His superior, (Sir) Robert Herbert, visited England in 1862-63 and found fault with Jordan's lack of discipline. In turn Jordan complained of his miserable allowance which caused him to spend part of his own income on lecture tours and to bargain with Mackay Baines & Co. of the Black Ball line for sending a migrant ship each month to Queensland in exchange for land orders. The bargain started well with one-class ships for free migrants but Black Ball soon began to carry paying cabin passengers and then to demand cash for its land orders. The Queensland Treasury objected to this demand and Jordan became the scapegoat. He tendered his resignation and returned to Brisbane in 1864 but the public sympathized with him. Exonerated by a select committee, he went back to London and held office until December 1866.

In 1868-71 Jordan represented East Moreton in the Legislative Assembly. He then turned to journalism and promoted a sugar plantation. In 1873 he failed to win election for Logan, but in 1875 became registrar-general and acted both as statist and commissioner of the Real Property Act; for his work on the 1876 census he was elected an honorary member of the Statistical Society of London. In 1883 and 1888 he won the assembly seat of South Brisbane. As minister for lands and works in 1887-88, he wrote a pamphlet on the amendments of Charles Dutton to the Land Act, and succeeded in appointing Professor Edward Mason Shelton of Kansas State Agricultural College as instructor in agriculture.

Jordan maintained his interest in religious affairs, describing himself as an 'old' Wesleyan and still part of the Church of England. Partly because of his faith, he strongly opposed Kanaka labour. He died at his home, Sherwood, on 30 June 1890, survived by his wife and by four sons and three daughters of their eleven children.

Select Bibliography

  • Votes and Proceedings (Legislative Assembly, Queensland), 1864, 2, 917, 957, 975, 1865, 651, 671, 1866, 1061, 1867, 2, 63
  • Parliamentary Debates (Queensland), 1864, 108, 196
  • Brisbane Courier, 17 June 1865, 26 July 1873, 1 July 1890
  • B. R. Kingston, Land Legislation and Administration in Queensland, 1859-1876 (Ph.D. thesis, Monash University, 1970)
  • Griffith papers, MS 448-49 (State Library of New South Wales).

Citation details

A. A. Morrison, 'Jordan, Henry (1818–1890)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, published first in hardcopy 1972, accessed online 18 May 2024.

This article was published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 4, (Melbourne University Press), 1972

View the front pages for Volume 4

© Copyright Australian Dictionary of Biography, 2006-2024

Life Summary [details]


19 November, 1818
Lincoln, Lincolnshire, England


30 June, 1890 (aged 71)
Queensland, Australia

Cultural Heritage

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